8 Essential Things I’ve Learnt From 8 Years of Marriage

We recently celebrated our 8th year of marriage by taking a day off. My mum came to help with the kids, and we took off — the entire day. We didn’t plan anything big or extra special. We just went for a prata breakfast, walked around town a bit, shopped, talked, took a tea break, and then ended with a light dinner and drinks atop the National Gallery.

With no kids around, it felt like our conversations were so adult-like, so quiet (like a mini-retreat, which is one of the things we do to keep love alive.) But it was good because we got to touch base about what we were feeling, and we got to hear each other’s struggles and fears.

I’m thankful that we’ve come so far. And I’m also aware that we have a long road ahead of us, God-willing.

Here are 8 important things I’ve learnt in our 8-year journey.

8 essential love lessons

1) Show your true self, even when it doesn’t look good

Marriage requires trust, which is probably the most difficult thing to build, and the easiest to tear down. It requires us to allow ourselves to be seen by our spouses, to be vulnerable. I don’t know about you but there are times I just don’t want to show my weaknesses and flaws; I want to present my strongest side, my best self. Ironically, the more we try to hide, the harder it is to build trust and cultivate healthy love in our marriage.

 

2) What we have now is better than what we had 8 years ago

Worldly wisdom tells us that most marriages tend to go nowhere but down. I guess the increasing divorce rates across the globe speak for themselves.

However, I believe it’s possible for things to get better over time – the key is hard work, a dash of humour, and lots of grace. While things can get a bit stale after a while in the love department, always remember that what you have at the end of many years of ups and downs is a marriage that is stronger to withstand trials and temptations. It may not be lovey-dovey sweet nothings all the time but it’s a love that is faithful, committed, practical and lasting. A love that helps you both become the people God created you to be. And that is a love to be thankful for.

 

3) The small things matter

Small acts like making him his favourite coffee in the morning, allowing her to sleep in while you take care of the kids, saying “thank you” and “I love you,” laughing yourselves silly over a joke, kissing before leaving for work, and a hug at the end of a long day – these are seemingly small and insignificant things but you’ll be surprised how they add up.

 

4) The big things matter too

Like keeping your word when you said you wouldn’t drink and drive, like keeping faith and not doing anything to betray his/her trust, like being there for your family whenever you can, like working to resolve unresolved issues that seem to crop up again and again.

The small things may not add up to a break-up, but neglecting them over a prolonged period of time could lead to one or both parties feeling disconnected – you know the feeling where you don’t feel like you know who you’re married to anymore – which could then lead to the bigger things. So keep your eye on the small things, while also minding the big.

 

5) You need to first love yourself

Brené Brown wrote about this in her book The Gifts of Imperfection and it resonated deeply with me.

Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.

When we are unable to love ourselves, or when we hold ourselves in contempt and disdain, it’s likely we will lash out at others with the same disdain and critical spirit. But accept yourself as a human being with strengths and weaknesses, and with the capacity to grow and learn, and you will likely be more forgiving to others as well.

When I struggle with loving myself or others, I remind myself of what the bible says, “We love because He first loved us.” Jesus doesn’t love us because we are loveable, but He sees us as His own, and He chooses to love us anyway.

 

6) It takes a village

Every relationship needs a support network to thrive. People who have been through the good times and bad, people who will be able to give you sound advice and walk with you when you’re going through a bad patch, people whom you can trust to have your best interests at heart.

 

7) When he /she needs space after an argument, give exactly that

I’ve been through my fair share of pounding on his closed door and demanding that “we deal with this right now.” But it has always backfired. 100% of the time.

When the man needs his space, he needs it. Otherwise he can’t think, much less verbalize to you what he’s feeling. I think the same goes for some women too. Over the years, I’ve learnt to distract myself from the urge to push him into the corner, and just give ourselves some time to sleep on it and cool down. This, on the other hand…always works.

 

8) It’s possible to fall in love all over again

Over the years, she may grow naggier. He may get grumpier and more stubborn too. But it is possible to not let love stagnate and die a slow death during the winter years.

How? Break from routine, from the predictable. Do something out of the ordinary once in a while. Remind yourself of the good things, the things to be thankful for. There is a verse in the bible that says, “…whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

I’m not suggesting that you create an illusion of your partner, or that you swing into extreme denial of certain faults or issues that should be dealt with. But I think for most of us, our brains are so hardwired to pick out the bad things that sometimes we need to re-train ourselves to see the good that is there.

See the good. Be thankful. And fall in love all over again.

What is the most important thing you’ve learnt about love/marriage this year?

If you’d like more posts on love, check out:

- 30 ways to love your wife (SG edition)

- 30 ways to love your husband (SG edition)

- Keeping love warm

If you’ve enjoyed this post, do share it with your friends and loved ones!

10 little things we do to keep love alive

love

Maintaining a healthy, happy marriage is not easy. (Anyone who’s been married for more than 4-5 years will tell you that.)

Let’s face it. Beyond the initial romance and fireworks, marriage boils down to real hard work and commitment. The differences that so attracted you at first will turn into opportunities for rifts, blame, and fights. The sparks that once flew will settle into a whispering ember. The forgiving that once came easy now becomes a lot harder.

They often say familiarity breeds contempt, and I sometimes see that in my own marriage too. How do we break out of that cycle, and change that familiarity into something good? Here are 10 little things we do that has helped us so far.

1. Remind each other to rest and relax

Some days once the kids are in bed, the hubby gets on the computer. And I do the same. Occasionally he reminds me to shut down, relax with him on the couch and watch TV, or have a light supper together. It’s nice to just sit together and chat after a long day, even if we don’t talk about anything serious.

2. Make time to talk

During a recent couple retreat, we made up a rule that anyone who talks about the kids first gets a demerit point. At the end of the retreat, we tallied points and the one who lost had to buy a nice treat. I have to say, it was very difficult to have a conversation without bringing up the kids! But it forced us to focus on each other and not get distracted.

I sometimes find it easier to connect while jogging, having a meal, or enjoying the sunset. So find an activity (simple is best!) that works for you both, and start chatting and bringing each other up to date about our lives.

3. Laugh together, do something fun

When was the last time you did something fun/new? Make time to do new things together; maybe learn dancing, pottery, golf, or travel to new places. We like to check out new cafes and restaurants. And sometimes, we go on a dessert date in the spur of the moment. We share a wunderlist of places to check out, so whenever we come across anything interesting, we just add it into the list. It certainly helps on those days when we don’t know where to go!

laugh

4. Support (don’t judge) during the low moments

When you’re having a hard day, the last thing you need is criticism, questioning, and someone offering unwanted advice. The only thing you need is a listening ear, and some empathy. Try some affirming words that communicate to your spouse “I believe in you.”

5. Think good thoughts, say good things

Negative thoughts about our spouses come to mind quickly, but good thoughts require some conscious rewiring. I find that in our culture, we tend to lack sorely in the compliments department. There is a bible verse that goes, “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”

The more we think about the good things, the more we’ll actually say it. The more you say it, the more affirmed the other person feels. Words are important to me, and I try to remind the hubby to be kind with the words he chooses to use. It takes practice, but we’re getting better at it.

6. Appreciate your differences

Sometimes I wonder if I’ve married an alien from Mars. He’s so different from me that I often struggle to comprehend it all. But…I remind myself of those times his different perspectives have helped me through difficulties, and it helps me to appreciate him better.

7. Give each other social space

On evenings when he has catch-ups with his friends, I cover for him. On some weekends, I may attend some short courses or meet up with friends too, and he covers for me. It’s healthy for us to each have our own social space. Plus isn’t it better that we ladies have someone else besides the men to air our thoughts /emotions with?

8. Find support in friends

A shared community is helpful as a couple needs accountability, trust, and encouragement when the going gets tough. I found this to be one of the biggest struggles as young parents because our leisure / social time shrank during those years. Thankfully we managed to keep in touch with some couples in church, and also with an older couple who walked us through pre-marital counseling. I often tell him I wish we had a couple mentor, people we can emulate and learn from, and navigate life with. But I think God has provided us with many godly figures to learn from too.

9. Touch daily

By this I mean, hug, kiss, cuddle, or give a shoulder rub. Of course, sometimes these lead to more physical intimacy, which is a good thing. These days, I find the man hugging the kids more often that me, so I let that be a visual reminder for me to hug him more, and not run into deficit in that department.

10. Renew your vows

We renew our vows every year on our anniversary. Every time I say my vows again, my spine tingles and I get transported back to that fateful day when we were wed. It’s a simple act that doesn’t take more than 5 minutes, but it reminds us of how sacred marriage is, and helps us want to be better at it.

10 little things

So there you have it. Our 10 little things. It’s really the little things, done often, that adds up to a great marriage.

What has helped to make things work in your marriage? Do share with us in the comments below!

PS. We’re launching a workshop called Communicate to Connect on 27 March 2016. Through this half-day workshop, you will learn how to connect with your spouse at a deeper level. The new skills that you’ll take home will also enable you to understand your child, and connect with him/her. More details and sign-up here. For enquiries, just drop me a mail.

8 great reasons why you should go on a holiday without kids

reasons-couple retreat

Some moons ago, I wrote a piece sharing 20 reasons why you should lug your kids on holidays. Today I thought it’s time to do a piece on reasons why you should do the opposite.

The hubs and I just came back from a trip to Phuket and I must say it’s made quite the difference in the way we treat each other and communicate. So yes…this post is inspired by that.

Here goes. :)

1. To reconnect
It’s easy to lose touch with your spouse amidst the stresses and busyness of daily life. Work demands, kid demands, and so on can really drain the energy and quality of the marriage relationship. Taking time to intentionally draw close to each other – emotionally, mentally and physically – is really necessary in today’s context. The trick is to leave the phone behind or forget about asking for the password to the hotel’s free wifi; instead take the time to just focus on each other.

2. To remember you are first husband and wife, then parents
When the kids came along, I recall being so caught up in the demands of child-rearing and devouring all the parenting books with a vengeance. Now that they are a tad older, and we can breathe a little, go on date nights every fortnight, etc etc, I find myself seeking out more marriage-related books and wanting to invest more energy into building my marriage.

I think it’s a normal process that we go through when kids enter the picture. Their needs are pressing and their voices are loud. But we also need to remember that marriage came first, then kids.

3. To have the conversations you’ve been meaning to have
There are times I’ve shelved a discussion I’ve been meaning to have just because of lack of time or mental energy to deal with it.

But sometimes the conversation is important enough for you to plan ahead and to get it off your chest. For instance, if there is a family issue that’s been bothering you, and you don’t know how to resolve it.

When you’re relaxed and rested during a holiday, it might just be the best time to deal with it head on, in partnership with your spouse.

4. To enjoy each other
When was the last time you had fun with your spouse? When you could laugh at each other, and just do wacky, silly things together? A holiday provides you with ample opportunities to go on exciting mini-journeys and day trips, and seize the day and do (or learn) something new with your mate.

Of course, physical intimacy is an important part of the whole package. For a couple of days you get to be like crazy honeymooners who are madly in love. Need I say more?

5. To make a baby
Friends will laugh at this one, because they know we’ve officially “closed shop” in the baby department. But lots of people take time off to “make babies” and let’s admit it it always sounds glamourous to say, “Oh this baby was made in Bali / Koh Samui / Tokyo.”

6. To forgive and heal from past hurts
An idyllic resort getaway provides an ideal setting for married couples to work through a rough patch, to hone their communication, and to seek restoration of friendship, love and trust. It’s no wonder that lots of churches organise marriage retreat programmes to help their members work through and resolve marital problems.

You don’t have to wait for a big issue to arise before retreat-ing as a couple. Taking time off regularly  helps build a healthy loving relationship, and that should put you in a better place to deal with life’s hurdles as they come.

7. To envision a better future
What are our goals as a family? What steps do we need to take to align everyone to these goals? Which activities do we take on, and which do we say no to?

Most families these days have to deal with very hectic routines and schedules. We all become great do-ers and runners, but it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture.

Time is a precious resource, and we want to invest it on things that matter. In order to know what matters, and what doesn’t, it’s essential to take a step back to evaluate your purpose and goals, and to plan concrete steps on how to achieve that ideal life for your family.

8. To recharge for the journey ahead
Parenting is a life journey – people say it gets easier but I think the truth is, there will always be challenges; they just change from stage to stage.

One thing is for sure. That we’re all in it for the long haul. And every seasoned sojourner will tell you how important it is to rest and take pit stops at regular points, in order to finish the race well.

What do you love most about going on holidays sans kids? I’d love to hear your views!

Love never fails

Vera surprised me one evening with this drawing of the hubby and I. It had a bold caption: Love never fails.

There were flowers in a vase on a table. A big cross stood out in the middle of the table.

It reminded me of this verse in 1 Corinthians.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

I asked Vera why she chose to draw the cross. She said it means that Jesus is in the house.

I then asked why she chose to write the words “Love never fails.” She said it was papa who gave her the idea. She originally had in mind some other words to write, but she thought daddy’s idea sounded better.

I was glad for this gentle reminder to keep God in the heart of all things, including our humble home.

As for everything else, Love never fails. His love, that is. Our human love may wane or fade or grow cold over time and trials. But His love never does.

Love_never_fails

 

 

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